World Refugee Day
Lewiston will celebrate ethnic diversity with literature, food, music and dancing

LEWISTON — The book “New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors” will be the focal point of an event planned at the Lewiston Public Library this Friday, June 19, in celebration of World Refugee Day.
Scheduled to take place between 2 and 4 p.m. in Callahan Hall, the free public event will feature youth poetry readings as well as ethnic food, music and dancing.
The “New Mainers” book was co-authored by photographer Jan Pieter van Voorst van Beest, who will present a slide show of the portraits included therein. A Dutch national who moved to Maine from the Netherlands in 1970, he has shown his work in solo, group and juried exhibits in the United States and Holland. He has published three books of photography: “San Miguel de Allende,” a photographic essay; “Portland, Maine, in Black and White;” and “Flesh and Stone.”
Also speaking will be Reza Jalali, who collaborated on the “New Mainers” project by introducing van Beest to the 27 individuals – representing over 20 different nationalities –  whose images and accompanying life stories appear in the book. Originally from Iran, he has lived in Maine for over two decades and currently resides in Portland, where he is a community organizer. A refugee and human-rights advocate who has visited many refugee camps, he speaks nationally on Islam, the Middle East, and refugee and human-rights issues; and leads workshops on cultural diversity. Jalali wrote the foreword to the “New Mainers” book.
Those attending Friday’s event will be greeted by traditional Albanian folk music performed on the quifteli, a two-stringed instrument similar to a mandolin, by Emrush Zeqiri, one of the “New Mainers” portrayed in the book.  Zeqiri is an ethnic Albanian who fled Kosovo with his family and spent time as a political prisoner and in a Macedonian refugee camp before arriving in Portland 10 years ago. His two teenage daughters will join him to demonstrate some Albanian folk dancing at the close of the program.
Another of the book’s figures who will be in attendance is Laura Val, a Romanian who immigrated to Israel before coming to Maine in 1991. Val is a documentary filmmaker who recently founded a nonprofit initiative, Celebrating Human Creativity, the mission of which is to promote cross-cultural understanding and inspire civic engagement. “I believe that differences between people should be seen as a source of celebration, rather than a threat or a source of conflict,” she said.
Also contributing to the program will be several members of Lewiston Middle School’s Civil Rights Team who will read selections of their original poetry. The largest such student group in Maine, with nearly 100 members, the team is committed to advocating for equal rights for all and to creating a safe environment within their school community. They are advised by Shayna Malyata, who was named the state’s Human Rights/Civil Rights Teacher of the Year in 2008.
Refreshments will include traditional foods prepared by members of the local immigrant community as well as a variety of sweets baked by students in the Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s culinary arts program. 
Copies of “New Mainers: Portraits of Our Immigrant Neighbors” will be available for purchase and signing. For more information, call the library at 513-3135.
Lewiston’s 2009 World Refugee Day celebration, which is part of a nationwide observance, is co-sponsored by the cities of Lewiston and Portland, Catholic Charities of Maine Refugee & Immigration Services, the Maine DHHS Office of Multicultural Affairs, United Somali Women of Maine, Portland Public Schools’ Office of Multilingual and Multicultural Programs, the NAACP and 211 Maine.
Portland will hold its own World Refugee Day program from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18, in the Portland Museum of Art. That event will include the showing of a documentary film and a panel discussion on African youth in Maine, in addition to ethnic music and food.           

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